Skip to main content

New York Times: A survivor's retelling of an ISIS massacre

By Ray Sanchez, CNN
updated 1:25 PM EDT, Thu September 4, 2014
  • Ali Hussein Kadhim recounts ISIS massacre in New York Times
  • He tells Times he survived by feigning death
  • ISIS uses brutality as calling card, often purposely capturing atrocities on video

(CNN) -- Ali Hussein Kadhim was not supposed to live to tell his story or that of the hundreds of other Iraqi soldiers and Shiites who were massacred in June by ISIS militants in Tikrit.

But on the execution line that day the bullet destined for him whizzed past his head and he fell forward feigning to be fatally wounded. Kadhim lived to tell his story to the New York Times, which produced a gripping video offering a rare survivor's retelling of one of countless massacres carried out by the brutal Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

"It took 23 days from the day of the massacre until he was reunited with his family," Adam Ellick, a senior video journalist for the New York Times, told CNN Thursday. "I think the best way I would describe it is a combination Schindler's List-style escape and an Underground Railroad of local Samaritans sort of putting humanity before everything else."

Brutality has become a propaganda tool for the militants. It has included processions of soldiers making their way across the desert in their underwear before facing a hail of bullets, the beheading of American journalists and even crucifixions. The militants often capture the killings on videos distributed throughout the world like bloody calling cards of their cruel campaign.

Kadhim shares ISIS survival tale with New York Times

Kadhim, 23, is the rare witness. Pretending to be dead among a pile of bodies, Kadhim told the Times that he waited for hours until he was able to escape.

"It's one of those stories where every time you feel relaxed something else bad happens to Ali," Ellick said.

ISIS claimed it killed 1,700 Shiite soldiers that day, making the killings the deadliest sectarian atrocity in Iraq's recent history, according to the Times.

On the video, Kadhim points to a computer screen showing footage of him among the pile of bodies during the Tikrit massacre.

"This is me," he said. "I'm 100% sure. Not only 100%. A million percent."

Kadhim was fourth in line for execution. The bullet buzzed past his head. His face already was splattered with the blood of others. He feigned death.

"I thought it was the end," he told the Times. "There was nothing more to fear. But then I remembered my family. ... Who will care for them?"

That gave him a will to live.

Said Ellick: "He got lucky and I think his desperation worked in his favor."

Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:08 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Despite airstrikes and international outrage against ISIS militants, the terror group is overrunning Iraqi forces and slowly marching on toward a province on Baghdad's doorstep.
updated 11:54 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
An Iraqi war vet says that U.S. prison camps became breeding grounds for ISIS. Stephanie Elam has the story.
updated 7:24 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
With no hope of resupply or reinforcement, Kurdish fighters have no hope of defeating ISIS. CNN's Arwa Damon reports.
updated 6:02 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
A new video reveals how ISIS fighters are trained. CNN's Brian Todd reports on how the group became a formidable force.
updated 8:32 PM EDT, Sun October 12, 2014
Residents of a town on the Turkish-Syrian border have only a fence separating them from ISIS. Nick Paton Walsh reports.
updated 9:27 PM EDT, Wed October 8, 2014
Barak Barfi: As airstrikes against ISIS fail, Washington should look to Syrian Kurds
updated 5:12 PM EDT, Tue October 7, 2014
His name is Abdullah X. His slogan: "Mind of a Scholar, Heart of a Warrior."
updated 9:54 AM EDT, Tue October 7, 2014
Border smuggling is only one way that ISIS generates money.
updated 9:47 AM EDT, Tue October 7, 2014
There are more than 55 coalition nations. Here's a deeper look at what each is contributing to the battle against ISIS.
updated 8:07 PM EDT, Mon October 6, 2014
This petite 25-year-old joined a female police brigade that enforces ISIS rules on women. This is the first time she's told her story.
updated 8:00 AM EDT, Mon October 6, 2014
ISIS and al Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra could find a common enemy: the U.S.-led allied effort, says CNN's Tim Lister.
Explore CNN's interactive that explains ISIS' roots, what it controls, and where its support comes from.
updated 1:04 PM EDT, Thu September 25, 2014
Anti-terrorist raids in Australia. Beheading of a French citizen in Algeria. Reports of ISIS sympathizers in Indonesia. Here are the countries that could be affected.
updated 11:01 AM EDT, Wed September 24, 2014
U.S. airstrikes against al Qaeda offshoots show the president is playing whack-a-mole against a new generation of terrorists.
updated 4:20 AM EDT, Tue October 7, 2014
Put yourself in the shoes (and sixth-century black robes) of ISIS' Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the mysterious boss of the terror group.